Wednesday 21 August 2019

Hand of Henry haunts us again

L'AFFAIR Henry is the, ahem, touchiest sporting controversy in living memory and was thoroughly explored in this entertaining, tightly-packaged edition of Scannal.

The night in the Stade de France when Thierry Henry's deliberate double-handball in the Irish goalmouth led directly to the William Gallas goal that kept Ireland out of the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa was an outrage that reverberated in France and around the footballing world.

We all know the story: Ireland went to Paris trailing one-nil from the first leg in Croke Park and burdened down by a dismal record in play-offs.

Nobody expected anything. Except, perhaps, Liam Brady, who was a part of Giovanni Trapattoni's management team at the time and offered a valuable insider contribution to the programme.

"I felt something special could happen," said Brady, a man nor normally given to blind optimism. "I felt it in the dressing room. There was a buzz."

The something special was a Robbie Keane equaliser, a just reward for a first-half in which the Irish played the French off the park.

"The message at half-time was 'more of the same'," said Brady.

But the second half came and went in a welter of missed Irish chances.

In the 12th minute of extra time, "Le Hand of Frog", as one newspaper dubbed it, intervened and sealed our fate.

Henry, who in post-match interviews wore the guilty look of a man who's narrowly escaped the guillotine, denied doing it deliberately and refused to apologise.

The Irish players were furious. The Irish fans were furious. The Irish people were furious.

Even the French newspapers were furious, calling Henry a cheat and their national team a disgrace.

There were furious outbursts in the Dail and a furious demand from FAI chief John Delaney for a replay.

That gift ultimately lay in the hands of French manager Raymond Domenech, but those hands, unfortunately for us, happened to be clinging by their fingernails onto his job, so the answer was "Non!"

As it turned out, there was a little payback when France imploded in South Africa, failing to win a single match and returning to Paris in utter disgrace. Domenech was sacked and Henry quit international football.

Where Scannal stumbled, however, was in its failure to go in with both feet on the cringe-inducing elephant in the room: John Delaney's embarrassing plea to Fifa boss, the odious Sepp Blatter, to let Ireland be "the 33rd team" at the World Cup.

Blatter, who'd already engineered a seeding system to ensure the big nations would progress to the finals, gleefully and sneeringly revealed the request to the world at a press conference.

"I was disgusted at that," said Brady. "It was a private meeting and he should have kept it private, but he couldn't do that. He's a bit of a clown."

Personally, I prefer to think of Blatter as a toad rather than a clown, but it doesn't change the fact that the incident tarnished our moral victory. You could call it a mini-scandal.

I haven't a clue what's going on in American Horror Story, probably because I missed the first four episodes (hey, you can't watch everything; you'd go mad). But that's okay. I doubt loyal viewers have a clue what's going on either.

But that's okay, too, when a series is so dementedly, deliriously over the top that the top ends being the bottom.

It's got everything you could want: a Gothic mansion; a couple in turmoil; a mixed-up, self-harming teenage daughter with the hots for a mixed-up, possibly psychotic teenage boy; jars of pickled body parts in the basement; a man with a half-burned face; a mad neighbour (Jessica Lange), plus ghosts, ghouls and assorted apparitions running amok on every dark, shadowy corridor.

Co-creator Ryan Murphy, who also gave us the awful Glee, clearly knows and loves his Seventies horror movies.

I think I'm going to love American Horror Story too.

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